Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've often been confounded as to why it is so difficult for drivers to grasp the concept, and the law, that requires them to turn on their headlights when their windshield wipers are in use.

I have seen quite a bit of this lately, but what I saw this week during rainy mornings and evenings bothered me even more.

On three separate occasions, when I was driving in the rain and therefore needed to have my headlights on, I observed three Arlington police vehicles driving on Route 50 without their headlights.

Do the police think they are simply above the law? Or are they as lackadaisical and oblivious as the average driver?

Lauryne Wright

Falls Church

I asked Matthew Martin, spokesman for the Arlington County Police Department, and he said marked cruisers not responding to an emergency with lights and siren are required to obey all traffic laws. "They should have had their headlights on," he said.

If you wish to complain to the police, get the four-digit car number on the front bumper, or the license plate number, call 703-558-2222 and ask for a supervisor. Or, log on to www.arlingtonva.us/police. There is a place for "complaints or compliments," Martin said.

All police drivers need to remember that they are rolling advertisements for their department, and other motorists are scrutinizing them.

Reporting a Drinking Driver

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This episode occurred a couple of weeks ago, but it's been bugging me, so I'm writing to you for advice.

While getting into my car in the Bradlee Shopping Center (Alexandria) parking lot, I noticed that the driver of the van next to me was pouring a pint of vodka into a quart bottle of orange juice.

I moved my car and called information for a nonemergency police number. I reached the Alexandria Sheriff's Office, and as soon as I started to describe what was happening, they said I needed to talk to the police. While I was on hold, the other driver continued to consume and make fresh screwdrivers. After a few minutes, the Alexandria dispatcher asked if I had an emergency. I said "no." I was put back on hold.

The van pulled out and had crossed King Street into Fairlington by the time the Alexandria operator got back on. I was following the van in a very low-speed, 15-mph chase.

I explained the situation, but since we were now in Arlington, I was transferred to the Arlington police.

After a few more minutes, by which time the van was heading back toward the Alexandria border, Arlington picked up the phone. The dispatcher kept interrupting me each time I tried to tell her the location, incident, direction of travel and plate number.

And when the van turned back into Alexandria, I said goodbye to the police and headed home.

Questions: Should I have called 911? Is there another number to call to report incidents like this quickly? Can't one jurisdiction take information and pass it on to another one?

P.S.: The van had Maryland plates and a "Support Our State Troopers" bumper sticker.

Michael A. Bobrik

Arlington

I doubt state troopers want that kind of support. "Anybody who is mixing screwdrivers behind the wheel is on his way to posing a danger to the public," said Matthew Martin, spokesman for the Arlington police. He says you can report the person by calling 911 or the main police dispatch number, 703-558-2222. Both incoming calls go to the same place, although 911 calls are given priority, he says.

"Sounds like in this case, the driver was moving too quickly between jurisdictions," Martin said. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Arlington police can quickly contact police in other jurisdictions through radio frequencies, he said.

Also, I don't get any sense from your letter how this person was driving and the immediate danger he might have posed to the public. If he's driving on the wrong side of the road, I say lean on 911.

I salute your conscientiousness, Mr. Bobrik, but don't know what else to tell you.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.